THE DOOR AND THE OLD BRASS KEY

At first, we never noticed ‘the door’. Crikey, it was an old building, our first visit to view and with so many doors, nooks and crannies, it was easy to miss things the first time around.

Even on the second and third visit, the fact that we didn’t see the door cannot be explained, except the bathroom door opened outwards and when it was open, the door was hidden.

We moved in a few days later, finding the door for the first time.

It was apparently locked. But then we saw nail heads around the edges. We counted twenty nails and by the looks of it, 6-inch ones at that.

The door was solid, hard wood, well made and it seemed in good nick, apart from the grimy coloured paintwork and the strangest door handle, like a fat pointed pine cone. It felt cold yet greasy and would not turn, as if it was glued.

Nailed to the door was a faded piece of cardboard. A Heinz product stamp was barely visible on it, but what someone had written on the cardboard was now faded and unreadable. When we tried to remove it, it crumbled into dust.

Try as we might, we couldn’t fathom where the door might lead.

The three-story building we had just moved into was tall and narrow, squeezed between an old warehouse and a massive block of ancient flats. Behind us was another warehouse, probably newer than the one next to us and much higher.

We only had windows on the front, one on each floor. The only back window was on the top floor.

From there, we could look down onto a small area the width of the house and about 20 foot long. Like a world war two bomb site, Buddleia plants dominated the area and what seemed to be puddles of oily black water amongst the long weedy grass. There was no way in, nor any way out.

A scary thought entered our head. We too only had one way in and one way out, so no other exit in an emergency.

The door seemed to lead into a back corner, but it was on the first floor. After measuring adjoining rooms, we were unable to determine exactly what or if anything lay beyond it. By our measurements, the door formed part of the outer wall.

The neighbourhood was pretty ghastly. Seemingly safe during the day, but at night, it gave us the creeps. Why Oh why didn’t we check it out at night? After dark, there was just one working streetlight. Shadows played games with the alleyways and breeze moved the shutters in the warehouse next door.

Dog shit littered the sidewalks, yet we’d never seen a dog. Human rubbish blew from one corner to another and a rusting shopping trolley was chained to the only working lamp post. Rats abused the privilege of being a rat, for we saw at least two a day. One massive rat sat daily outside our front door, casually sniffing the air and apparently, frightened of no one.

We guessed lots of people lived in the flats next door. At night, many lights were on, but we seldom saw anyone enter or leave. Outside the flats we saw a sad old man, sitting on the communal bench. He was a miserable sod who grunted rather than talked. We’d said hi to him the day we moved in and introduced ourselves.

He said nothing to us. His grey face, pale and weathered from old age, just looked at us. His eyeballs first locked onto my partner’s, then steadily onto mine. His eyes were strange, the colour of a tiger’s. His teeth were almost the same colour, half of them rotten. He smelt like a dead dog.

As we shared this awkward silence, he turned to look up at our new home, grunted, then went back into the flats. As he did, I’m convinced he said something, something about a door.

I turned to my partner. “Did he actually say something?” “I’m not sure” he said. “But I think he said don’t mess with the fucking door”.

We brushed it off. Who cares about a sad old man if he can’t be friendly?

Across the road, a single bloke lived on the top floor of another warehouse, one that was half demolished before whatever project was planned ran out of money. We knew that because the agent had told us, the same time he told us our place would be a real bargain to rent. We knew the bloke lived there because he had lights blazing all night and walked around half naked.

From what we could tell, he had hardly any furniture, no curtains, drapes or blinds and maybe not many clothes! The sun never hit that building, as it never hit ours except for an hour late afternoon. Then it tore through the scratched and stained front windows to show the extent of dust, grime and shit infested in our new home.

Whoever had lived here before lived in the mire. I doubt that any part of it had seen a lick of paint since it was built and they certainly weren’t house proud. Only one of the sash windows opened, the one on the first floor. The other windows were glued by paint to their window frames.

There was a basement, of sorts. It was one room with no means of escape, except the way in. It was dank, musty and with a faint smell of something familiar but definitely unpleasant. The room had an odd annexe, just 2 by 3 feet, which seemed to serve no purpose. The walls were bare red brick, dirty with crumbling pointing and salt marks crusting every brick.

The floor was made of thick brick tiles. They were all jet black and greasy. Three were missing, showing dry cracked soil underneath. What appeared to be sand laid half an inch deep over the tiles. Yet they remained oily, leaving a sticky residue when touched.

Two huge rusty hooks were hanging from the ceiling, 6 feet apart. We couldn’t fathom their use, for they were hung diagonally corner to corner.

Screwed to the outer wall was a wooden box, similar to a bird box without the hole. Weirdly, there was no way into the box, no lid, door or keyhole. Using all our force, it wouldn’t budge.

As we climbed the staircase back into the house, we noticed a small mirror sunk into the brickwork, at waist height. On closer inspection, we found a brick had been carefully chipped out to accommodate the mirror, just 3 x 2 inches in size. There was no bannister, just one light switch and a light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

We settled in within a few days. Cleaning made little difference to the paintwork, the grime and the crusty carpets. But it made the place smell better and once we added a few personal items, it began to feel like home, kind of.

On the ground floor was just a lobby, a small utility room and a store room, just big enough for a single bed. Strangely, the size of the ground floor seemed less than the upper floors. We searched for other doors, even thinking maybe they had been wallpapered over, but we found none.

On the first floor were the kitchen diner and a cosy lounge area. A narrow corridor off the kitchen led to the bathroom, and that door.

The third floor had two bedrooms, the front one bigger than the back, yet both equal in length.

The first time we used the bath the water wouldn’t drain away. The bath was a cast iron original, with claw legs and a brown water stain 6 inched from the rim. The taps were huge Victorian things, stained green with thick mineral corrosion and squeaked when we turned them on. A thick solid stream of lime-scale ran down to the plug hole, like sick frozen in time.

From night one, we both slept like logs. On the seventh night, we couldn’t sleep a wink. We both felt tense and restless and my belly ached.

Earlier we had enjoyed steak and chips, washed down with a bottle of cheap plonk. We didn’t usually eat afters, but we’d scoffed an entire box of ice cream between us. For me, my tummy was not at its best.

At 4 am I got up to make a hot drink. The bloke over the road was up, light blazing and dancing around to music I guess. He was bollock naked. I mentally noted he had a lean body and seemed in good shape. I think he was alone.

I had a pee in the loo, then pulled the rusty chain hanging from the cast iron cistern.

Nothing happened!

I tugged it again. It wasn’t empty because it didn’t make that empty clunk. I pulled it again and again, but nothing. I couldn’t be arsed, so I left it.

I made a drink for us both and climbed the stairs to the bedroom. As we lay in bed, we heard a faint and distant gurgle, like being in a pipe when one will soon be overwhelmed with water or gunge.

We froze, our hearts beating in sync one to the dozen. The gurgle seemed to be outside, but gradually got louder before suddenly changing to something reminding me of boiling marmalade, like a thick glug plop glug plop.

Then, we heard the toilet. A solitary clunk, no gushing water, just a clunk.

I whispered who was going to investigate. My partner was nesh at the best of times and right now, even for me things were too creepy. So we didn’t.

The next thing we remember is waking up. It was 11 am and our alarm hadn’t gone off. We had overslept and both were more than 2 hours late for work.

We made a dash to the bathroom to shave and stuff, but we stopped in our tracks, right outside the bathroom.

The door. It was open.

It led directly into a brick wall, a black oily wall,

On the floor, neatly placed next to each other were twenty 7 inch nails, perfectly straight, clean and new.

The cone shaped door handle was pushed through the plaster of the adjoining wall. On the outer side of the door, a key remained in the lock.

A shiny brass key.

In the toilet, black oily water sat in the bowl, very similar to what lay in the bomb site out the back.

On the wash basin, stood upright next to the cold tap, was a small mirror, the same small mirror from the basement staircase wall. Laying in the wash basin was the round bar of soap. Covered in sand it looked like a stale doughnut.

Curled like a snake on the bathroom floor was a tattered blue rope, exactly 6-foot long. Hanging from the end of it was a huge rusty hook, one of the two hooks that had hung from the basement ceiling.

We were trembling trying to take all this in. But then noticed something much scarier.

Six feet away from the bathroom door, leading up the narrow corridor to the kitchen, was one solitary human footprint. Just one, large, black and oily footprint.

We gave work a miss and the same day we moved out into a hotel. We telephoned the agent, told him everything and he agreed to investigate.

When he came back to us, he was somewhat abrupt and talked about with holding our deposit. He claimed the property was as we left it, but he couldn’t find the door or any of the scary stuff we had seen. We repeated everything we had witnessed, including the sad old man next door.

His voice quivered and his tone changed. He said there was once an old man living in the flats, but he died 70 years ago after falling from the first-floor fire exit. No one had lived in his flat since and it was boarded up, on the inside. He’d lived on the first floor.

A week later we found another place to live, a newer house on the edge of town next to a field. This one had a front and back door and not a warehouse in sight.

Seven days later, the key to the back door broke.

Looking through the box of spare keys, we found one that fitted.

A shiny brass key.

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